Roman Catholic response to atheism
Karl Rahner, S.J., editor, The pastoral approach to atheism (Paulist: NY 1967)
No question is more important and topical for the Church today than the question
of how to approach the problem of atheism spiritually and pastorally.
Vatican Council II did indeed touch upon it, but only on the periphery of the
dominant theme of the Council. ... in a way that underrates the decisive
issue of atheism in its peculiar form and menace. All other questions yield
to this one. 1
Karl Rahner, S.J., What does Vatican II teach about atheism?
Once we have established that according to the Council's teaching an atheist
is not necessarily "lost" because of his atheism, even if he dies an
atheist, the theological problem arises whether "goodwill" can be a
simple substitute for knowledge of God and faith in God. We have already seen
that n.7 of the Decree on the missionary activity of the Church maintains that
all men can be saved, and we have included the atheist if there is no
moral guilt. But the Decree says explicitly that persons, here referred to, can
attain to salvation precisely because they achieve a saving faith, although in
ways that are only known to God. Therefore the question is whether and how an
atheist in general can be assumed to have such a faith. ...
The conciliar texts quoted above constantly mention such an atheist as
acting according to his conscience, as seeking the truth, as fulfilling the
requirements of his moral conscience. In this way he can indeed be thought of as
innocent and within reach of divine intent of salvation because, although he has
not (yet) found God, he follows the demands of his conscience. 14-5